San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The 49ers are scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa talks to reporters before their NFL football practice in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers for the NFC Championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers celebrates as he walks off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 28-23 to advance to the NFC Championship. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams runs to the endzone for his touchdown catch during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur celebrates a touchdown with Aaron Rodgers during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur calls a play during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) celebrates after the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches a touchdown pass in front of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The San Francisco 49ers are one win away from accomplishing a turnaround that's been done only once before in the Super Bowl era.
With a victory in the NFC championship game at home on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Niners will become the second team in NFL history to make the Super Bowl a year after losing at least 12 games.
Only the St. Louis Rams have done it, going from 4-12 in 1998 to Super Bowl champs one year later thanks in part of an injury to Trent Green that cleared the way for Kurt Warner to take over at quarterback.
The 49ers (14-3) also can credit an injury to their quarterback for part of their turnaround; the team went only 4-12 last season after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
The silver lining to that injury was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which led to the addition of defensive end Nick Bosa, who helped transform the defense into one of the league's best.
''Things have a way of working out,'' Garoppolo said. ''I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything, and yeah, we got Bosa out of it. That's a pretty good trade-off, I guess. Things have a way of working out, I guess. This ride is crazy. You've just got to roll with the punches.''
The Packers (14-3) have also had an impressive turnaround after slumping to a 6-9-1 record last season that led to the firing of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.
Matt LaFleur came in and tinkered with the offense, and general manager Brian Gutekunst brought in key additions such as pass-rushing duo Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith, who combined for 25 1/2 sacks on the season.
There have also been some lower-profile pickups such as Tyler Ervin, Jared Veldheer and Marcedes Lewis that have helped.
''I think he's done a great job. I think he deserves a lot of credit, him and his staff,'' quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Gutekunst. ''There's been a lot of great pickups, but I think I said this at my locker a few weeks ago, the big-name ones have been fantastic, but it's kind of the other ones that have been the glue pieces, I feel like.''
These teams played earlier this season in Week 12 in what turned out to be a lopsided game. Rodgers lost a fumble on Green Bay's first possession, setting up a 2-yard TD drive that gave San Francisco the lead. The Niners then broke it open with long TD passes to Deebo Samuel late in the second quarter and George Kittle in the third quarter for a 37-8 win. Rodgers had the worst day of his career, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt and getting sacked five times.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has a message for anyone on his team feeling overconfident.
''Don't be that stupid because that's not real,'' he said. ''This is about Sunday's game. I can give a thousand stories of things like that, playing games in my history I've been a part of.''
There have been 23 times in the Super Bowl era, excluding one replacement player game in 1987, that a team lost a regular-season game by at least 28 points to a team it met again in the playoffs. In nine of those cases, the team that got blown out earlier in the season came back to win in the playoffs.
Rodgers and star receiver Davante Adams both hail from Northern California, with Rodgers growing up in Chico and Adams in Palo Alto, which is near Santa Clara. Both played college ball in the state, Rodgers going to Cal and Adams to Fresno State. But neither ended up with the 49ers, who famously passed on Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft for Alex Smith.
''I usually dreamed about playing for the 49ers as a kid, but obviously that thing passed a long time ago,'' Rodgers said when asked if he envisioned playing the Niners in the playoffs.
These two franchises that have combined for nine Super Bowl titles have a rich history when it comes to the playoffs. This will be their eighth meeting in the past 25 postseasons, three more than any other rivalry. In fact, the only other matchup to occur more often is Cowboys-Rams, which happened nine times. Green Bay has a 4-3 edge but the 49ers won the last two meetings following the 2012 and '13 seasons.
''We've had a lot of games and had some big games in the playoffs,'' 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. ''Seem to find each other all the time during the regular season, as well. A team that we are familiar with and we've had a lot of great battles with throughout the years.''
CARRY THE ROCK
Tevin Coleman got the starting nod at halfback for the 49ers the last nine weeks of the regular season even though he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and 23.6 yards per game. But Coleman justified that confidence in last week's playoff opener against Minnesota when he ran 22 times for 105 yards in a 27-10 win.
''Tevin's ran hard for us all year,'' Shanahan said. ''I know he had much better results yesterday, or Saturday. I think a lot of it had to do with the opportunities he got. He got more opportunities. He was running real hard.''
ON THE CORNER
The one weakness on the 49ers defense of late has been cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been picked on repeatedly as teams avoid Richard Sherman. Witherspoon has allowed all five TD passes given up by San Francisco the past three games and was benched for Emmanuel Moseley in the first quarter last week after getting beaten for a 41-yard TD by Stefon Diggs. Shanahan hasn't said what his plan is for this week, but it seems likely Moseley will get the nod after faring well in nine games as a starter earlier this season when Witherspoon was hurt.
There are plenty of close ties between the coaching staffs based on past history together. But none is as strong as the one between Matt LaFleur and his younger brother Mike, who is passing game coordinator in San Francisco. When the teams played in the regular season, Matt's family came out early and spent the weekend with Mike's family. That won't be the case this time.
''I think there's a little different vibe, so I'll just leave it at that,'' Matt LaFleur said. ''I haven't really talked to him much at all and it will probably be that way for the remainder of the week.''
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that he doesn't think quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) will need surgery after dislocating his kneecap in the middle of the season. "Right now he looks good," Reid said. "He was out throwing with Dez (Bryant) the other day so he looked like he was slinging it around pretty good. I think hes fine." Mahomes missed two games because of the knee injury, but he was just fine when he returned and led the Chiefs to the Super Bowl title over the 49ers. He wasn't quite as good in 2019 as he was when he won the MVP in 2018, but Mahomes is the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL and will be the top signal-caller off the boards in 2020 drafts, even if he has offseason surgery.
Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said it's unlikely that the team will retain wide receiver Sammy Watkins under his current deal. Watkins is scheduled to make $14 million in 2020. The Chiefs will meet with Watkins' representatives this week. The 26-year-old came up big in the postseason each of the last two years with KC, but has been very mediocre each of the last two regular seasons with the Chiefs. Watkins had 52 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns for a career-low 12.9 yards per catch in 14 games in 2019. Even in the Chiefs explosive offense with Patrick Mahomes throwing him passes, Watkins was an inconsistent WR4 for fantasy owners.
Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said that defensive tackle Chris Jones, who will be a free agent in March, is a priority for the team this offseason. The Chiefs want to keep Jones and defensive end Frank Clark together, so the franchise tag is an option with Jones. The 25-year-old is a run-stuffer in the middle of KC's defensive line and tallied 36 tackles (23 solo), nine sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 13 games for the Chiefs in the regular season before helping them win the Super Bowl over the 49ers. He has 33 total sacks in his four seasons with KC after being a second-round pick in 2016.
Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry said that the team will place a tender on impending restricted free-agent running back Kareem Hunt. Despite a traffic stop in the offseason in which Hunt admitted he'd fail a drug test, the Browns would like him to return as a complement to Nick Chubb in their backfield, mainly as a pass-catching option. Suspended for the first half of 2019, Hunt ran the ball 43 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 37 catches for 285 yards and a score through the air. He'd have more fantasy upside on another team as the primary back, but he'll continue to have RB3/flex appeal in point-per-reception leagues if the Browns bring him back.
New York Jets head coach Adam Gase isn't sure if running back Le'Veon Bell will take part in the team's offseason program. However, Gase said "it's not a huge deal" if Bell is absent. Gase isn't a huge fan of Bell, but it'll be extremely hard for the Jets to trade Bell because of his large contract. After holding out for all of 2018, Bell had his worst season as a professional in his first year with Gang Green. He ran 245 times for 789 rushing yards (3.2 yards per carry) and only three rushing touchdowns. Bell added 66 catches for 461 yards and one receiving TD. As long as he stays with the Jets, he'll be more of an RB2 with upside in PPR leagues.
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is considering the possibility of trading back from the No. 4 overall selection in the first round of this year's draft. "Were open for business," Gettleman said. The Giants have their QB of the future in Daniel Jones, who they took in the first round last year, and they could be looking to secure multiple picks later in the draft in order to move back. The Dolphins are expected to take a quarterback at No. 5 overall, so the Giants will be open to trading back with a team that may want to jump in front of Miami to get the signal-caller that they desire.
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said that quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) is already working out and will be a full-go for the start of the offseason program. Stafford was on his way to a career year in 2019 before breaking his back and missing the final eight games of the season. It's a great sign that he's recovered nicely and won't miss any of the offseason workouts for Detroit. With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola all back for 2020, Stafford will be a solid QB1 target and could potentially come at a nice price given his serious injury last season. He'll also have emerging young tight end T.J. Hockenson as a nice red-zone weapon.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip) said he's expecting to be cleared by doctors on March 9. Tagovailoa will then take part in a Pro Day in early April. There are concerns about his health and his size, but he'll still likely be taken early in the first round of drafts with many teams looking for a franchise signal-caller. Most experts are predicting that the Dolphins will go after him with the fifth overall pick, but Miami is lukewarm on Tua at this point and may prefer Oregon QB Justin Herbert at this point. Another team could also trade up ahead of the Dolphins to take Tagovailoa if they really like him. Because of his hip injury, Tagovailoa and his agent have already said that they wouldn't mind him sitting and learning for a year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said that the team's coaches are "more than excited" about what tight end O.J. Howard can do in his second year in head coach Bruce Arians' offense in 2020. The Bucs are "very high" on him despite Howard catching 34 passes for 459 yards and a career-low one touchdown in 14 games in 2019. The 25-year-old caught the same number of passes in 2018 in only 10 games played. He was the biggest tight end bust in fantasy last year after being a breakout candidate over the summer. There's a chance that Tampa makes it a point to involve Howard more, especially in the red zone, but with Cameron Brate still around, fantasy owners will want to see it before they believe it.
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock left open the possibility that the team will look to upgrade over quarterback Derek Carr this offseason. "Every position gets evaluated every year, and if we can upgrade it, we will," Mayock said. Carr had a career-high 70.4 completion percentage and a career-high 4,054 passing yards, but he underwhelmed with just 21 touchdown passes over a full season. With Tom Brady potentially becoming available on the free-agent market next month, the Raiders could look to make a splash in their first season in Las Vegas and land the future Hall of Famer. Even if they don't and Carr remains the starter for the Black and Silver, he'll be a low-ceiling QB2 in fantasy.
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace thinks running back David Montgomery can be the team's featured running back and carry a bigger workload in his sophomore season in 2020. That is if the Bears decide to run more next season. Montgomery was pretty average in his rookie campaign, rushing 242 times for 889 yards and six touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry. There's obviously room for improvement if the 22-year-old sees more of a workload in 2020, but the quarterback situation in Chicago could hold Montgomery and the offense as a whole back. Montgomery will be more of an RB3 entering fall drafts.
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said that tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell will hit the free-agent market. With Atlanta up against the salary cap, it's widely believed that they won't have enough salary cap space to re-sign Hooper, who is expected to reset the tight end market after he posted career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite missing three games with an injury in 2019. Along with potentially Hunter Henry, Hooper will be the top tight end available in free agency. He was a high-end fantasy tight end in Atlanta and he could still be that with another team, but staying with the Falcons would be the best scenario for his long-term fantasy value.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot) had offseason surgery to remove the screw from his foot, according to sources. Brown might be limited in the offseason program because of the surgery, but he's expected to be fine by training camp. Hollywood was bothered by his foot throughout his rookie season, which is why Baltimore kept his snaps limited on game day. The 22-year-old first-round pick showed flashes in his first year in the NFL, catching 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. He's a boom-or-bust fantasy commodity as a deep threat, but his ceiling is still very high in this Ravens offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said that the team will "do everything we can" to keep running back Derrick Henry around. Henry, who will become a free agent next month, led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and tied Aaron Jones with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2019. The bruising back finished second to only Christian McCaffrey in total fantasy points. In a run-first offense under head coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans would be crazy to let Henry walk. Between Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Tannehill is much more likely to move on in free agency. If Henry returns to Tennessee, he'll obviously be a high-end RB1 in fall drafts.
As of now, the Carolina Panthers have decided that they will move forward with quarterback Cam Newton (foot) as their starting quarterback, according to sources. Newton's foot is healing, but it will be a couple of months before he's game-ready, a timeline that complicates any potential trade. Newton will turn 31 in May and has missed 16 games in the last two seasons with shoulder and foot injuries. He played in just two games in 2019 before being shut down for the season. Newton's fantasy stock is the lowest it has been since he entered the league, but he could bounce back and be serviceable as a QB1 if he can get past his foot issues. Because of the injury risk, fantasy managers will be wary of taking him as their QB1 going into the 2020 season, but he could be a nice value if he can stay on the field.
The Cleveland Browns will likely be looking to replace defensive end Olivier Vernon this offseason, as he's due to make $15.25 million in 2020. Vernon will either be released or will need to take a pay cut to stay in Cleveland. If Vernon is released, the Browns could look to defensive end Everson Griffen or free safety Anthony Harris on the open market. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is familiar with both players from his time with the Vikings. The Browns will be looking to upgrade their pass-rushers and safeties in the offseason. Vernon, 30 this October, played in just 10 games in 2019 with the Browns and recorded just 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
There's a real chance that the Baltimore Ravens move tight end Hayden Hurst this offseason, and the Patriots could be involved, according to sources. The Patriots were heavily linked to Hurst prior to the 2018 draft. Hurst was selected with the 25th overall pick in the first round that year, but he's underwhelmed with 43 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns in his two seasons in the NFL and has fallen down Baltimore's depth chart behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. New England will be looking to beef up their receiver depth, including at tight end, so Hurst could be a player on the rise if he's dealt to New England. Of course, the Patriots might not have Tom Brady under center in 2020 either.
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday that he expects to receive the franchise tag. Over the Cap estimates that the tag for safeties this year will be worth $12.7 million. Simmons is hoping that he'll be able to work out a long-term deal by the deadline of July 15 if the Broncos put the tag on him. The former third-round pick on 2016 is developing into one of the better safeties in the league. The 26-year-old had 93 tackles (65 solo)and a career-high four interceptions over a full season in 2019. Simmons has had 90-plus total tackles each of the last two seasons and should remain in Denver for the long-term.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that the team hasn't met or negotiated with quarterback Dak Prescott's agent Todd France since September of last year. There haven't been talks between the two sides this offseason, but they may meet during the scouting combine this week. Jones also said that no contracts with Prescott or wide receiver Amari Cooper will be agreed upon until the new collective-bargaining rules for 2020 are decided. The Cowboys had a "very upbeat" conversation with Cooper's representation during Super Bowl week. The Cowboys continue to say that Prescott is their quarterback of the future. Expect talks to heat up this week, with Prescott ultimately staying in Dallas as a high-end QB1 for fantasy owners.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) is expected to take part in spring workouts to some degree. "Once we see him, we'll have a better feel for it. But he'll have some limitations up until training camp before we really turn him loose," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. Vander Esch was a stud in his rookie season, but he played in just nine games in 2019 because of his neck injury, recording 72 tackles (43 solo), half a sack and one forced fumble. If fully healthy entering the 2020 season, LVE can be an IPD force because of his tackling ability from sideline to sideline. The Cowboys need him in the middle of the field on defense.